Moliere

Moliere


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  • The true portrait of Mr de Molière in Sganarelle's dress.

    SIMONIN Claude (1635 - 1721)

  • Molière reading Tartuffe at Ninon de Lenclos.

    MONSIAU Nicolas André (1754 - 1837)

  • Molière reading Tartuffe at Ninon de Lenclos.

    MONSIAU Nicolas André (1754 - 1837)

The true portrait of Mr de Molière in Sganarelle's dress.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Molière reading Tartuffe at Ninon de Lenclos.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Molière reading Tartuffe at Ninon de Lenclos.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Publication date: September 2012

Historical context

Molière seen 150 years apart

The Grand Siècle was marked in the literary field by the emergence of preciousness, thanks to the development of salons held by women such as Madeleine de Scudéry or Ninon de Lenclos. The classical age was also characterized by the promotion of a theatrical genre often obscured by tragedy: comedy, which was then embodied by the pen of Molière. Sganarelle and Tartuffe are among his favorite characters, the first appearing for the first time in the farce The Flying Doctor (around 1645), the second in the eponymous play The Tartuffe or the Impostor in 1664.

More than a century later, this theatricality was summoned to the envy under the Restoration (1815-1830). Both royal power and the Catholic Church feel the need to reaffirm an identity battered by two decades of revolution and Empire; a vast rigorous missionary movement is launched, arousing the ire of the populations who, in return, engage in protests and hullabaloo against what they consider to be a clerical plot. In this traumatic context, Nicolas-André Monsiau's painting takes on a very particular resonance: it recalls the success of Tartuffe, a piece represented many times in this first part of the XIXe century, a sign of questioning hypocrisy, deception and legitimacy.

Image Analysis

From type to character, from Sganarelle to Tartuffe

One hundred and fifty years apart, these works evoke two characters from Molière. Made in the XVIIe century, Claude Simonin’s print depicts him in the recurring features of Sganarelle, created from scratch by Molière on the model of the types of Italian comedy. Sganarelle sums up the quicksilver, cowardly and clumsy. He is dressed in a doublet, mantle or cape, bonnet and breeches, and has his neck tight in an old-fashioned ruff. His costume is often crimson red or garish yellow.

He is indeed a type, immediately identifiable by his audience. Here, Molière plays a joke character, wearing an expression close to a mask and imbued with the influence of the commedia dell’arte. Half bent, his head tilted to the side, he seems to greet or offer his services in a honeyed and obsequious attitude which refers to his original function as a valet.

Nicolas-André Monsiau's canvas, dated from the beginning of the XIXe century, offers a completely different Molière. The painter is one of the first to represent scenes of a modern historical genre. Standing in full light, Molière declaims his text, one hand raised, the other brandishing The Tartuffe which has just come under virulent criticism for its subversive dimension, all the more badly accepted as the devout party weighs with all its weight at court. The playwright now embraces the comedy of manners, based on the faults of probable characters, here the hypocrisy of a devotee. On two occasions, in 1664 and 1667, the piece was banned, despite the modifications made to it. It was not until 1669 and the death of the Queen Mother that it was authorized. The scene represented by Monsiau would take place shortly after Molière's first conviction, at Ninon de Lenclos' who has a salon at 36 rue des Tournelles in Paris. Molière (13) reads his play in front of an essentially male audience of scholars, artists and writers including Pierre and Thomas Corneille (1 and 3), Jean-Baptiste Lully (2), Racine (7), Jean de La Fontaine (4), Nicolas Boileau (8), Chapelle (5), Baron (6), le grand Condé (10), La Bruyère (15), Pierre Mignard (14), La Rochefoucault (16), but also the Marshal de Vivone (17), Philippe Quinault (9), Saint-Évremont (12) and François Girardon (18). Seated in the center, Ninon de Lenclos (11), somewhat languid, is dressed in an anachronistic dress for the reign of Louis XIV.

Interpretation

Two visions and two uses of Molière

These works present two visions and two uses of Molière. In the XVII printe century, it is the actor who is highlighted. He is shown alone, and his features disappear under those of Sganarelle. On the contrary, Nicolas-André Monsiau shows the author and part of his preparatory work, represented here by the reading of his play. His presence in the foreground, standing, and his name in the title of the painting testify to the passing to posterity of his person and his work. Indeed, the painter operates a chronological confusion in order to transpose the meaning of Tartuffe in the troubled context of the Restoration. Throughout this period, the public is offered vaudevillesque representations of Molière. This "tartufferie" is embodied in the setting to music, to popular tunes, of certain monologues in the piece, the multiple theatrical performances illustrating the tendency towards a political instrumentalisation of theatricality. In this sense, Nicolas-André Monsiau's painting is avant-garde, since it seems to have been made between 1802 and 1810, under the Empire.

  • theater
  • Molière (Poquelin Jean-Baptiste, aka)
  • costumes
  • absolute monarchy
  • Great Century
  • Boileau (Nicolas)
  • Crow (Pierre)
  • Fountain
  • actor
  • missionaries
  • Racine (Jean)

Bibliography

Patrick DANDREY, Molière or the Aesthetics of the Ridiculous, Paris, Klincksieck, 1992. Roger DUCHÊNE, Moliere, Paris, Fayard, 1998. Michel GILOT and Jean SERROY, Comedy in the classical age, Paris, Belin, coll. "Belin sup", 1997. · Sheryl KROEN, Politics and Theater: the Crisis of Legitimacy in Restoration France, 1815-1830, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000. MOLIÈRE, Works, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Pleiade", 1933.

To cite this article

Myriam DENIEL TERNANT, "Molière"


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